Fitness and Ageing

Physical fitness means the ability of a person to undertake physical activity with endurance, power and flexibility. As we age, it is important that we stay as fit as possible because this helps maintain our physical and mental well-being.

There are four key types of exercise – endurance, strength training, balance and flexibility. Endurance exercises boost heart rate and breathing over a period of time, and are good for the heart, lungs and circulation. Examples include walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing, or any other activity done without stopping for a period of time.

Strength training helps maintain muscle size and strength and also can help keep bones strong.  Some examples are weight training or body weight exercises such as push ups or pull ups.

Balance exercises help to prevent falls, a major cause of disability in older adults. A good example of this is to try balancing on one foot and increasing the length of time you are able to do it.

Stretching exercises improve flexibility and reduce stiffness. Stretching exercises include yoga, tai chi, Pilates, and anything that makes you try to increase the range of motion of a joint. These exercises help keep the body supple.

Here are some of the main reasons why making physical activity a part of your everyday life is important as we get older;

1. Exercise increases bone density.

The disease osteoporosis makes your bones weak and brittle, and becomes more common with age. Exercise increases bone strength, and so helps prevent this occurring. The best kinds of exercise to make bones stronger are weight-bearing exercises like walking, and resistance exercises such as lifting weights but simply living an active lifestyle will help your bones stay strong.

2. Exercise helps you stay independent.

The point of being active is to maintain your ability to function. People who exercise and stay fit over their lifetimes can avoid being disabled at the end of their lives. Those who don't exercise usually experience some type of disability.

3. Exercise increases metabolism.

Keeping fit and active increases the resting metabolic rate of the body and so the body uses more of the calories you take in, even when you are resting. That leads to less body fat and makes it easier to control your weight. Just being a few kilos overweight puts you at high risk of many health problems.

4. Exercise reduces your risk of falls.

The reasons for this are that exercise allows you to practice keeping your balance and reacting to things around you, and also that exercise helps to slow down the natural decline in muscle fitness and strength that occurs with ageing. You are therefore likely to find balancing easier.

5. Exercise improves flexibility.

Doing activities and exercises that put your body through the full range of movement helps keep it flexible. Stretching exercises increase flexibility and help you do more of the activities you enjoy. Always warm up and gradually work your way into the exercise before doing any type of stretching exercises and remember that a mild pulling sensation is normal when stretching but it should never cause pain, especially joint pain. If you feel pain, stop at once. Never bounce into a stretch - make slow, steady movements to help your muscles stretch naturally.

6. Exercise is a reason to be sociable.

Exercise groups are a good way to meet people. Since one of the best ways of increasing your activity is to do it in a group, exercise can lead to new friendships and improve your social life which helps to avoid feelings of loneliness; this can be a key factor in maintaining mental well being as we get older.

7. Exercise improves your mood.

Exercise is good for your mind and large numbers of studies show it can reduce depression and anxiety as well as it lifting self-esteem. Being physically active can help you improve your sense of what you can do and also provide a challenge to keep your mind and body focused on staying healthy.

8. Exercise helps your whole body.

Being active improves the way your lungs work, helps prevent and control diabetes and is good for your heart. All of the body's systems deteriorate with age, but much of that can be attributed to a lack of physical activity, and exercise can slow that decline down.

Make exercise part of a daily routine

Schedule your exercise time just as you do other activities - it should be a normal part of your day – and always start slowly and gradually increase your pace. If you can, try to persuade a friend to exercise with you since they can provide the motivation to stick with an exercise programme because you know the person is counting on you to be there. To prevent boredom, vary what you do for exercise, and add physical activity to your day-to-day activities, such as using the stairs instead of the elevator or getting off the bus one or two stops early and walking the rest of the way to your destination.